YOU THINK YOU EAT vegetables, fruits, and plant matter just to get your daily dose of vitamin C or folate? Perhaps so, but since you can get those from vitamins and supplements, why go to the pain of cooking when you could pop a pill? Goodness, even boxed donuts are fortified with iron and B vitamins! So vegetables, fruits, and plant matter that nobody really wants to eat seem senseless anyhow.
Interruption: Thank you SO much to Molly Green Magazine for giving me a spot to share the medical value of eating real, whole food. My article here you’re reading today ran to help provide an alternative viewpoint to a ketogenic diet article running in the same issue. I just love that the editor loves to keep things balanced! And for the record, I absolutely see a place for ketogenic diets, but I am very wary of protecting the microbiome too.
In addition to my article, this quarter of Molly Green Magazine features articles on “Aquaponics: A Fishy Business,” “Duck Egg Delights,” “Strawesome: An Alternative to Plastic,” “SEO: The Key to Growing a Business,” and “Help! My Homeschool Teen is Being a Pain”—and other fascinating topics for exceptionally curious minds! Check it out!
Bacteria and Macaroni and Cheese
You can’t have the easy way out! Nice try. The real reason to eat plant matter is for the trillions of bacteria living within you. It sounds strange, but our intestines are perfectly designed to function in sync with billions of bacteria living and giving inside of us—as long as we feed them properly. Unfortunately, the processed foods that we rely on, such as most breakfast cereals, macaroni and cheese, most store-bought bread, crackers, and pizza (and certainly white sugar), do not make it to the lower part of the intestines where these bacteria live. We are starving out some exceptionally friendly, essential bacteria that we need for our health.
The Case of the Missing Fiber
Those essential bacteria need fiber. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you loftily say. “I’ve heard of fiber. I eat lots of oatmeal and salads.”
No. That won’t cut it. It’s not enough. There’s one type of fiber that was naturally included in traditional, healthy cultures which is virtually absent in today’s civilized, processed diet. It’s called resistant starch. Yes, you’re reading correctly; the fiber that you need and probably are not getting is a form of starch. It’s not broken down by the body to be absorbed like other starch is (and thus you don’t get all those calories), so it makes its way to where the bacteria live in your colon.
When the bacteria there eat this resistant starch, they make beneficial, natural substances that bathe the colon cells and reduce colon cancer. However, the bacteria’s by-products also work to fight diabetes, boost the functioning of the brain (perhaps decreasing dementia), soothe the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and support a healthy metabolism. In fact, this kind of “fiber” is so important food companies are researching ways to add it to your food!
But there’s no need to wait and get it from a box or modified plant. Of course not. Real food always wins! Get the benefits of resistant starch and its power without spending any extra money on your food bill and without your family giving you dirty looks. I mean, they eat rice, potatoes, and bananas, don’t they? Yes! You’re in business. Health is on the way. If you want to get fancy, green peas, lentils, beans, and plantains can be added to the mix.
The Value of Leftovers
Wait. This is too good. You know there has to be a catch. Well, there is a small one. Resistant starch is a bit fussy and might go away as a food ripens or when a food is cooked, at least when it’s cooked and hot the first time around. It’s related to some fascinating physical chemistry. Although Grandma didn’t know the physical chemistry, when she served leftovers or made a potato salad, bean salad, or rice salad, she was serving resistant starch.
For potatoes, resistant starch is available in raw potatoes, but most people don’t like those too well. (Did you know that despite what people say, eating raw potatoes is not toxic? Green potatoes are potentially toxic, and cooking does not inactivate the toxin.) Cooking potatoes changes the resistant starch to available starch, which is nearly all absorbed so your gut bacteria don’t get any food. However, cooling the cooked potato in the refrigerator re-forms resistant starch. Eat the potatoes cold (as in potato salad) or reheating them up at this point still preserves the resistant starch.
When it comes to cooked rice, cooling it down also allows resistant starch to form; fresh, hot, cooked rice has little to no resistant starch. Lentils and beans (especially navy beans) contain some available resistant starch when cooked, but they will also form more as they cool down in the refrigerator, too. Grains, nuts, and seeds contain some resistant starch, but potatoes, green bananas and plantains, and legumes contain more. As for bananas and plantains, resistant starch is found in green fruits. As the fruit yellows, the starch becomes plain starch which feeds you more than your bacteria.
It’s Not about Roughage
For people who are on low-carbohydrate diets, such as for weight loss, diabetes, or to control other health conditions, it is vitally important to eat fiber, including resistant starch.
Unfortunately, when people think of “fiber,” they think of “roughage.” It is so much more than the “rough” matter in the vegetables and fruits we need! The roughage may be the least important part because the bacteria do not create beneficial substances from it! If our gut bacteria are not fed properly, the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract can be compromised, the colon cells will not receive the beneficial substances formed by the bacteria, and the rest of the body’s functions will be affected.
It’s a little confusing how bacteria living in our digestive tracts can affect the neurons and myelin sheaths in our brains—or how they can regulate our blood sugars and body size. But research is proving this to be true, and science is backpedaling as it realizes how far off base we have gotten in our modern eating habits.
A diet rich in whole, real plant matter feeds us not only our vitamins and minerals, but also feeds our gut bacteria important substances like resistant starch. Maybe health doesn’t come in a pill after all. Eat whole. Eat real.